Origin – Related Projects
Our starting point for this project was a shared interest in physical, participatory experiences, as expressed in two projects – Stab a Friend and From Over Here.
In Lily Szajnberg’s project, Stab a Friend, a participant is invited to recreate the infamous shower scene from Psycho with the assistance of a friend. The participant asks the friend to stand in a shower, behind a curtain. They take up a knife and stab at the shower curtain separating them and their friend. The knife, which is augmented with an accelerometer and senses the stabbing motion and transmits this information to a computer. A digital camera connected to the computer recognizes the stabbing motions from the accelerometer and displays bloody hand-prints on the shower curtain upon each stabbing motion. The hand-prints digitally drip down the shower curtain as “The Knife” (a.k.a the “Reet, reet, reet” of violins – now a quintessential part of any horror movie) plays. The words “look what you’ve done” flash at the end, and then the user can click to play again.
Stab a Friend is meant to be both unsettling and fun; offering us the chance to take part in a transgressive, unrepeatable act (death is finite) – over and over again if we choose. Recreating this scene, which, in its prime caused widespread social unrest, feels more comfortable now as we are more than 50 years removed from its moment in cultural history. This is what permits it to be a medium that encourages us to reconsider the pleasure and entertainment we draw from the mediated, staged, on-screen murders that proliferate our lives.
In Paul May’s From Over Here a participant is invited to explore data drawn from the New York Times as a physical piece of sculpture. Each card represents a month of news articles related to Ireland. The length of the card corresponds to the number of articles written about Ireland in a given month. The topics of those articles, and the people mentioned in those articles, are etched onto the surface of the card. The cards, when stacked on top of each other, present a physical and tactile timeline of news from 1992-2010.
From Over Here is meant to offer a representation of “home” drawn from “far away” – highlighting patterns and themes of coverage of one place created in another place. This project was an attempt to see if this distant perspective felt true to the artist’s own experience of his home. The sculpture is created in a way that affords touching, manipulation, sorting, filtering – playful, physical interaction with information.
Origin – Building on Shared Themes
We felt that both of our projects explored compatible themes – physical, hands-on interaction between an audience and a piece as a way of mediating information and inspiring emotion. We used these concepts as a starting point for this project.
From here, we explored themes that we felt resonated with us both.
We both felt that the concept of the spectacle was really compelling and worthy of further exploration and critique – specifically the capacity for the spectacle to create an experience of overwhelming physical immersion where the individual audience member becomes the focus of this effect. Moreover, we were interested in unpacking the ideas of intent in the spectacle – finding a way to create a spectacle that elicits a strong emotional response for solely the sake of providing a joy and self-awareness to the audience.
Using our recent readings “Debord, Cybersituations and the Interactive Spectacle”, “Pierre Huyghe’s Double Spectacle” and Pierre Huyghe’s The Journey That Wasn’t as a key reference, we started to question the validity of the counter-spectacle as an effective form of critique.
We felt the audience, drawn in by the piece’s ruse as an exploration of climate change, and unaware of the conceptual underpinnings of The Journey That Wasn’t was likely to be overwhelmed by the narrative, imagery and sound thus making the counter-spectacle the very spectacle it proclaims to critique. We felt as though a more fruitful critique of spectacle could be found in seeking to create analogs of the effect of spectacle without appropriating the techniques of spectacle. The spectacle traditionally aims to overwhelm its audience through aural, visual and narrative techniques, for the purpose of eliciting a certain emotional response. Huyghe’s counter-spectacle does the same with the purpose of demonstrating that no experience can actually be represented or understood, no matter how spectacular it may be. Yet, by engaging in the techniques of the spectacle, it fails to undo the spectacle completely. We took this as our first starting point. How can we create a spectacle devoid of the aural, visual, and narrative elements that traditionally define it?
We felt that another effect of the spectacle worthy of exploration and critique was its capacity to to isolate the audience members. We discussed the power of spectacle to to overwhelm critical thought, encourage strong emotional responses and transmit information that is difficult – if not impossible – to analyze or communicate verbally after the fact. Despite the “scale” of the spectacle, its effect is a dialog with the viewer that is sealed and solitary. We took this as our second starting point – how can we create an experience that is completely unrepresentable and cannot be a shared experience?
Finally, we felt the emotional response that is such a key element of both the spectacle and counter-spectacle would be an interesting and important aspect to rethink and critique. The spectacle aims to overwhelm its audience to elicit a strong emotional response for the purposes of economical, political or social gain. Much of the time though, this emotional response is joyful, and though it may be for ulterior motives, this is not necessarily “bad”. As we discussed in class, the joy you may get from watching Tide detergent commercials and then from using Tide detergent, is not necessarily a bad thing. Making people happy is good. We took this as our third starting point. How can we elicit an emotional response purely for the purpose of creating joy?
Drawing on the shared themes from our two projects, and incorporating our thoughts on spectacle, our goal is to create an experience that explores the power of spectacle based on the three key aforementioned questions.
We will attempt to create a physical experience that immerses a participant, overwhelms their senses without imagery, sound, or narrative, that is unrepresentable to others but elicits a positive emotional response for no specific gain other than individual delight or comfort. We would like this experience to be difficult, if not impossible, to put into words, document through media, or communicate in any fashion, such that the participant encourages others to participate directly, reinforcing the transmission and power of the spectacle.
For the purposes of our project, we have defined technology as the methods and formats traditionally used to deliver spectacle to a viewer; narrative, light, imagery and sound. We would like to create our “physical spectacle” without appropriating these technologies.
We will construct an enclosure large enough for one participant to enter. The participant will be asked to put on ear-protection to block out ambient noise. They will enter the enclosure, which will then be closed – leaving the participant in total darkness. After a short delay, the walls of the enclosure will close-in on the participant. The texture of the walls will be soft, like a comforter or blanket. Warm air will be introduced into the enclosure. The participant will remain in this warm, dark, soft, physical “hug” for 30 seconds (which should feel significantly longer) – at which point the walls will return to their original position, the warm air will cease to flow and they will be released from the enclosure into daylight.
Materials/Choice of Materials
We decided to mediate a traditionally person-to-person experience that exists for the sole purpose of spreading comfort and joy. It is, in and of itself repeatable, but not representable – meaning, you can hug many people over and over, but can never describe or demonstrate the feeling or experience of that hug. This seemed like a perfect way to overwhelm an individual while getting the reaction we desired. We want the space to be enclosed, private, and void of other distractions such that the user has to focus on the actual physic feeling of the interaction – this also precludes any desire the user may have to attempt to document, capture, or mediate the process. The inside will be like a hug, soft and warm, but not in a way that causes claustrophobia. We will use a soft, malleable, breathable material like a comforter or silky sheets that will be inflated by an aerobed pump, to surround, but not suffocate, the user.
The box itself will also be a spectacle. It is mysterious and large, unlabeled and unfitting for its surrounding space such that it piques an insatiable curiosity for passers-by to experience it (think: an unlabeled wooden phone-booth). For both of us, making something that inspired users to want to interact without instructions how to interact is important.